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Robert Morris men open conference play unbeaten

FINAL: Robert Morris 0, Farleigh Dickinson 0


From Robert Morris University report 

The opening weekend of Northeast Conference play appeared to agree with the Robert Morris University men’s soccer team, which wrapped up a long homestand with a 0-0 draw against league foe Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday afternoon.

While the Colonials (2-6-2, 1-0-1 NEC) couldn’t muster a goal at the North Athletic Complex, they locked it down on their end of the pitch for the second straight match, with freshman keeper Mike Zolnierczyk notching back-to-back clean sheets.

Combine this result with Friday’s taut 1-0 victory and RMU put its best boot forward at the start of the ‘second season,’ rebounding from getting just one win in non-conference play.

“It’s a conference game,” head coach Bill Denniston said. “It’s different. It’s harder. It’s faster. It’s tighter. I think we did an excellent job.”

Facing just two FDU shots on target, Zolnierczyk wasn’t as challenged as he was Friday, but there’s no doubt last year’s WPIAL Class A player of the year is finding his NCAA form after allowing eight goals in his first two RMU starts.

In the three starts since — all in a row — Zolnierczyk has stopped nine of 10 shots while using his combination of size and athleticism to cut off crosses and calm down scrambles in the box. He cited his decision-making as the most-improved aspect of his game in recent weeks.

“It’s taken me a few games to get my confidence here,” said Zolnierczyk, a Springdale grad. “All the guys have been supportive in helping me get better over these last few weeks. Hopefully it’s at the right time and we’re ready for conference.”

Even though the visiting Knights didn’t allow much, RMU was inches from claiming a two-win weekend. On 80 minutes, sophomore attacker Cristian Palermo thought he successfully chipped FDU keeper Jahmali Waite, but the goalie got a piece of the shot and deflected it off the crossbar.

Although the finish went begging, Palermo’s classmate Riccardo Rota created the chance by lofting a ball into an open space behind the Knights’ back line; it was Rota whose cross led to the decisive own goal in Friday’s win.

“I just saw ‘Ricky’ play that ball over and I thought, ‘I can get to that,’ ” Palermo said. “I chipped it, but the goalie made a great save. Nothing I could do about it.”

Overtime was a matter of survival for the Colonials, who were outshot 7-1 in the twin golden-goal sessions, giving FDU (4-3-2, 0-0-1 NEC) a 21-17 advantage for the game.

Denniston suggested his team was out of gas after a lot of intense soccer over a 48-hour timeframe.

“We’re all fatigued,” Palermo said, referring to both teams. “It’s about who wants it more at the end of the day. You gotta dig deep.”

With a program-record six-match homestand at its conclusion, the Colonials will play three of their next four on the road. That stretch starts with a two-match trip out east, featuring NEC newcomer Merrimack on Friday and old rival Central Conn

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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